Life on the Mersey Lightships

Liverpool Mercury, Feb 1907

Life on a lightship

The Beacon Lights in the Mersey

Life on a Lightship - How many of us understands what that means, how few of us have ever given it a thought, yet all through the wild, winter days and stormy nights, small hands of brave men have faithfully performed their important duties on the lightships at the entrance to our port.

Theirs is a cheerless task, their lonely vigil being rarely broken with the sounds beyond the howling of the wind, the surging and dashing of the waves or the shriek of the sea birds.

I was only going to say their life was a lonely and monotonous one, but, whilst there are periods of quietide during the summer months, the monotony is frequently broken by the ever changing weather and the consequent need for preparations for storm and fog.

There are 4 Liverpool Lightships, CROSBY, FORMBY, BAR and NORTH WEST the last named lying at anchor, 9 miles seaward from the Bar.

How often have we seen them on taking our holiday trips to the Isle of Mann, Ireland and Scotland, sometimes passing near enough to see the man on lookout and hear his cheery voice as he hailed us. How often have Mariners approaching Liverpool after a long voyage, welcomed the sight of the distinctive light of the ships, and through the mist, steered those laden barques, by the aid of those bright lights, safely into port.

Silently and unobstructively the lightships fulfil their mission of guiding vessels along the right channels went entering or leaving port.

Plainly rigged and, carrying only sufficient sail to use in an emergency, the lightships proclaim their use by the prominence of the "cage," or apparatus for holding the light. They are the lamps of the channel and their beacons are regularly and properly trimmed all through the night by the men on watch.

The crew of each ship consists of 8 men and the Captain, two or three are on duty at one time during the 24hrs of the day. One man at least is always on deck, to do lookout, to attend to the signals and foghorns and to see the lights. The ships are kept scrupulously clean, on deck and below. The seamen are a handy body, they have to do their own cleaning, cooking, mending, washing and sewing, a good deal of this is necessary as they are on duty for 2mths at a time, they then have the joy of a month on shore.

About once a week the ships are visited by the Dock Board vessel which conveys to the men fresh supplies of food and other necessities, and one can understand how welcome such visits are, so far from and yet so near to shore.

Occasionally the crew of the lightships are visited by other quarters, the Liverpool Seaman's Mission paid them a call. Canon LAMBERT of the Mersey Mission, and some of his helpers occasionally find time to give them a visit.

He was so pleased when I met him recently, when he told me in spite of the fog a party was held at Christmastime to go to the lightships in the tug HERCULANEUM and leave hampers, so the men would not be deprived of some of the flavours of the festive season.

The popular Missioner, Capt TRANTOR remembers some time ago taking Mr AKED and some friends to the lightships and Mr AKED conducted a service on the three vessels and a lady friend rendered solos, which delighted the small but appreciative congregations - This is a memory which Mr AKED will take with him to America.

It has been recorded that, Lightships are often confused with Lighthouses, but, whereas the Lighthousekeeper is safe enough in his tower, the Lightshipman has to toss in a ship miles out to sea in all weathers. There are under the control of Trinity House from 60 to 70 lightships around our coast, each with a crew of from 5 to 7 men. A modern lightship costs from £10,000 to £16,000 and is equipped with all the up-to-date methods for fulfilling the function for which it is intended. The men on these ships are bound to have a full knowledge of seamanship, and must have served a certain time afloat as sailors.

All these men know something of the terrors of the deep. Especially is such of those stationed in lightships situated in such positions as the North West vessel. As an Old Tar expressed it, "She rides heavy sometimes, and so does the Bar ship."

Although, lying at anchor, showing its light and sounding its warning bells, a lightship has before now been run into in foggy weather and has been so badly damaged that it has been necessary to tow it to port. To meet such emergencies the Dock Board keeps near New Ferry a spare ship called the ORION, which replaces the other vessel as required.

Precautions taken against collision in the channel - The North West lightship has recently been fixed with an apparatus for submarine signalling, and the system of wireless telegraphy has been installed on board. These are innovations of great value to all seamen, and are sure to lessen the risks of collision when neither the form nor the light of the beacon ship are visible owing to fog. The extra precautions may add to the duties of the lightshipmen, but while they do so they increase the usefulness of the lightships and the men know it is the chief end of the beacon lights to the Mersey.

And so happy in their work, we can imagine sometimes we hear them sing:-

And white waves heaving high, my boys,

The good ship tight and free -

The world of water is our home,

And merry men are we.


British Pathe news, lightship

Copyright 2002 / To date